By BRIAN JENNINGS
In the break between seasons, Southington athletic director Greg Ferry sat down with The Observer to look back at the fall and forward to the winter.
Although the Knights didn’t come away with any state titles, Ferry still considered the fall season to be a successful one for Southington athletics, and he said he’s excited about Southington’s chances this winter.
Observer: How did the new online systems work for parents, coaches, and athletes this past fall?
Ferry: Whenever you put new systems in place, there’s always an initial challenge, getting the message out to all the various stakeholders. I thought we did a good job getting the message out, and for the most part, we had very few issues. I thought it went very smoothly.
The positives are that you have everything in one place and are avoiding all the paper that used to be collected. I think you’re protecting people’s privacy. It made it a lot easier for the coaches.
Everything was at their fingertips digitally. So, out in the practice field, if you needed to get a hold of a parent, you could literally pull it off your phone to get emergency contact information, rather than scrap to find a piece of paper.
Just from a safety and liability end, it makes so much sense. And if a student athlete’s physical was expired, it would be in red. It was just a lot easier to track in anything that could keep our athletes safer. I’m all for it.
Observer: What does the athletic department’s new acronym “Southington P.R.I.D.E.” mean?
Ferry: It stands for positive attitude, response, integrity, determination, and excellence.
I look at response and excellence. If you look at a lot of our teams from a year ago, they showed tremendous response, as in growth, especially during some of the challenges that happened during the season. A prime example was boys soccer getting off to a really challenging start. They faced a bunch of injuries, but then really finished the season well. I think that’s a testament to them buying into our core principles.
It’s never perfect, and I think a lot of times, you can take how our seasons ended. If you look at the way volleyball ended, we had a great season, but we weren’t happy with how we responded against Greenwich. So, it’s something that Coach (Rich) Heitz can take for the rest of his offseason to figure out how we can better train our athletes for when things aren’t going well.
You take a deep breath and have a routine to deal with some of the challenges.
What it does is give us things to fall back on and drive our athletes, so that they’re thinking about a couple things instead of a million things.
As I continue to work within our program, I’m going to try to get all the stakeholders on board with that positive attitude, especially having our spectators share in a positive manner at our sporting events. I would love to see us improve about how we treat officials. I think that’s an area of growth for our entire department.
Observer: Tell us about your new student leadership group at the high school composed of varsity head coaches, varsity team captains, and a small section of underclassmen. What is its function?
Ferry: The program that I’ve been instructing is used by many Division I colleges and professional athletes, so it’s tried and tested. For me, it’s not teaching a million things. It’s teaching a couple things and just keep hitting them over and over again.
For me, learning it is just trying to implement it and stop getting frustrated when you see some things that we could do a little bit better, knowing that it’s a process and is going happen.
We’re going to continue to meet monthly and go from there.
Observer: Although Southington didn’t have any state champions this past fall, do you still consider the fall season to be a success for Southington athletics?
Ferry: I think 100 percent that it was a tremendous success when you think about what we did across the league because state titles are not our only goal.
We won division titles in boys soccer, girls soccer, volleyball, and football. We had a team like swimming that went 8-2 in the regular season. We had field hockey improve from a non-playoff team to a 10-6 playoff team. So, when you’re seeing growth like that in all your programs, I don’t know how you can’t get excited.
Volleyball lost to Greenwich, who won the state title. Girls soccer lost to Ridgefield, who won the state title. Boys soccer lost to Glastonbury, who won the state title. If we were fortunate enough to get into the football playoffs with an 8-2 record, we would have had a chance to compete and make a run there.
You can’t win it all every year, but if you can put yourself in positions to go against the best team, how can’t you judge that as being successful? If you look at the community service stuff our teams are doing and the academic accolades our athletes are getting, how can’t you be excited about what’s happening in Southington athletics.
Observer: Looking to what’s ahead of us, are there any new programs or features for the upcoming winter season?
Ferry: We’re really just continuing the momentum that we gained in the fall and rolling out the mental conditioning program, and then seeing our teams just really focus on being gritty competitors.
We don’t validate just wins and losses. It’s how we compete and show class and respect on and off the field.
We have a lot of veteran coaches that are coming back and one new hire, which I’m excited about. Kim Vaillancourt is taking over our gymnastics program for just an absolute, fabulous coach in Kaitlyn O’Donnell, who did an unbelievable job. She’s going to try and sustain the excellence that Kaitlyn rolled out for many years.
Observer: Every season, you hold a parents’ night. What do you hope players, coaches, and parents take away from the event?
Ferry: The big reason why we do that three times a year, is we’re trying to communicate all our standards and expectations, for not only our players, but our parents and coaches as well.
I want to get everyone in the same room and talk about how we’re going to communicate with one another. What’s our protocol? If you’re having some challenges, who are you going to talk to? What are our ideals? What are we trying to do in the way we articulate our principles, values, and mission?
For me, it’s exciting and is a way to sell our program. I think our kids get a very strong anti-drug, alcohol, and tobacco messages from me because it’s something I take near and dear to my heart, considering I did drug law enforcement in my past life.
I also hit the aspect that we’re trying to have our kids be self-advocates, so that they can learn and grow through our athletic programs.
Observer: What are your thoughts about the new postseason structure in boys basketball. Does Southington have a better shot at being competitive?
Ferry: The CIAC is trying to form five competitive divisions, and they’re trying to do what’s right for kids. Is the system perfect? No, but I think it’s trying to get better.
We’re in Division III, and a lot of it is off your past history. I told a lot of people that we can’t do anything about our past history. All we can control is today and tomorrow, and try putting good days together.
So, if we were in Division III, IV, or that open division at V, we’re just going to compete and try to be the best version of our self on the basketball court. I know Coach (John) Cessario and the rest of the guys are working hard to do that.
Observer: What are your thoughts ice hockey being moved to Division II, and how do you think Hall-Southington will fair in Division II?
Ferry: I talked to Coach (Brian) Cannon a couple days ago, and we’re staying real optimistic and upbeat. We have a challenging schedule, obviously. We’re fortunate that we have some experienced and youthful players coming back.
We’re going to compete. I don’t know if it’s going to translate wins or loses, but I think a great goal for us would be to compete to our best ability, try to get enough points to get into that tournament, and then see what happens. If we do that, that’s a really good year, considering the jump up from Division III to Division II.
Observer: What are you most excited about for the upcoming winter season?
Ferry: I’m excited to watch all of our student-athletes compete.
I think what I’m really looking forward to seeing is a young man, Paul Calo, who is a defending New England champion. I want to see how he has developed and matured as a leader and to see how he has continues to make strides.
This is a young man who I am super proud of because he lost to a young man from Xavier at the Class LL championship and state open, but faced him for a third time and beat him at the New England championship.
He’s a young man who’s in my leadership program, and I’m really interested to see him continue to develop and not rest on his laurels.
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